A Strategy for the Northwest Arctic Borough
The Northwest Arctic Borough (NAB) was formed in June 1986 as a home rule borough. Geographically, the borough is roughly the size of the state of Indiana with its southern border just miles above the Arctic Circle. With about 36,000 square miles of land and 3,560 miles of shoreline, the NAB is the second largest borough in the state. Roughly 7,500 people in eleven communities call the NAB home. More than eighty percent of our residents are descended from the Inupiat Eskimos who settled the area about 10,000 years ago. Many of our people continue to lead a subsistence lifestyle, and food security is a top priority for our residents.
NAB’s mission is to improve the quality of life for all residents. The mayor, 11 assembly members, and 27 staff members in four departments serve the borough’s residents. The borough’s annual general fund appropriation is roughly $12.5 million; of that, $1.8 million supports education and $6 million is appropriated for payment of bond debt. Last year, the borough received an additional $21.9 million in the special revenue fund for capital improvement projects and other grants. The borough’s three main departments, Planning, Public Services and Economic Development, provide most government services. Additionally, through a nonprofit corporation, the borough subsidizes the Sulainich Art Gallery, which promotes traditional Native arts and crafts as a reliable source of income for our residents.
A Bright Future
The Northwest Arctic Borough is uniquely positioned to greatly expand its role in the state’s economy. With declining oil revenue, Alaska needs an economic bridge until new technology and exploration can begin expanding production. The state also needs to find ways to permanently diversify its economy. The undeveloped mineral resources of the Northwest Arctic region offer a major opportunity to expand economic diversity and provide plenty of high-paying jobs in the very near future. The Northwest Arctic Borough is blessed with substantial known deposits of zinc, lead, silver, gold, coal, jade, copper, and other metals. Several companies are actively exploring a number of prospects, with one company projecting mine construction in 2016 and operations beginning by 2019. Additionally, the Red Dog zinc and lead mine has been producing for years and continues to serve as an economic mainstay. The borough now stands at a pivotal moment, looking forward to an enormously exciting economic future.
The Red Dog Mine, lying just 70 miles north of Kotzebue, is one of our main revenue sources. Accounting for 10 percent of global zinc production, the mine is the world’s largest producer of zinc and has the world’s largest zinc reserves. In 2008 Red Dog accounted for 55 percent of the mineral value produced in Alaska. For the year 2008 the mine produced 567,900 tons of zinc, 122,600 tons of lead, and 9,100,000 troy ounces of silver, for a total metal value of over a billion dollars.
The Red Dog Mine provides 550 direct jobs in the state with 2011 payroll of $55 million. Overall Red Dog supports 2,800 jobs, either directly or indirectly, providing an additional $166 million in compensation. From 1989-2009, the mine has contributed an estimated $921 million to the statewide economy. Through the 7(i) and (j) provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, seventy percent of Red Dog’s subsurface profits are shared with all other regional and village corporations, thus spreading wealth around the state. In 2011 alone NANA distributed $82 million to other regional and village corporations. Last year Red Dog paid $749 million in local, state and federal taxes. Red Dog serves as a model of how mineral development can occur in rural areas with the support and input of the local communities.
Meanwhile, just off our coastline, Shell is exploring for oil and natural gas in the Chukchi Sea. With anticipated ice-free Arctic waters during the summer, our area will play a key role in the emerging Arctic economy. The Northwest Arctic Borough wants to be ready for the future, with the right infrastructure in place to support economic growth and sustainable communities.
To prepare our local work force for coming development, we are in the final phases of building the Star of the Northwest Magnet School (STAR). STAR will be a residential comprehensive secondary and post-secondary school for students region-wide in grades 11 t o 14. Students in the school will graduate from high school and complete up to two years of additional academic and/or vocational technical education leading to an associate of arts degree, and or vocational/technical certifications. The STAR educational curriculum was developed as a collaborative partnership between the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, Alaska Technical Center, Chukchi College, and our industry partners. The school will focus on preparing students for professional careers in our region with four career pathways to choose from; education, healthcare, resource development, and culinary arts. We plan to graduate students who are prepared for the work force by having the required skill levels needed, as well as, understanding the daily demands of a work environment. Our goal is to graduate our next generation of dedicated, driven community leaders and our own workforce.